Author’s widow reunites with letter unearthed in US bookshop from beyond grave

A 40-year-old letter unearthed 3,000 miles away from the author’s Highgate home is to be reunited with his widow just months after his death.

Biographer Mark Griffin stumbled upon the handwritten letter by eminent writer Dan Jacobson and his wife Margaret inside a copy of the author’s short story collection Inklings at a used bookshop in Maine, US.

He contacted the Ham&High this week in an attempt to reunite the letter with Mr Jacobson’s family and on Tuesday his son and daughter Simon and Jessica Jacobson got in touch to thank Mr Griffin for the discovery.

It came just four months after prolific Jewish South African writer Mr Jacobson, who lived in Merton Lane, Highgate for more than 20 years, died in June.

Mr Griffin, 46, of Lewiston, Maine, said: “I’m very pleased to be able to return this well-travelled letter to the Jacobson family and bring this literary adventure full circle.

“I sincerely hope that the contents of the letter will bring back some treasured memories.

“It was like discovering a time capsule from 1974, stuck in the back of a book. You read it and it makes history come alive.”

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Black hole

The letter was sent on August 2, 1974 from the Jacobsons’ former address in Cranbourne Gardens, Temple Fortune, to the late Janette and John Wheeler, a leading US physicist who coined the term “black hole”.

It describes meeting the Wheelers in Italy on holiday, where the two couples seem to have struck up a friendship.

Mr Jacobson penned: “No, I hadn’t forgotten that I’d said I would send you a copy of this selection of my stories...

“Anyway, here the book is at last. I do hope you will like some of the tales in it, and that you will think kindly of it as an additional memento to your stay in Bellagio [Italy].”

It is not known how the letter came to be included in the edition found in the used bookshop in Maine, but in a postscript, Margaret Jacobson wrote: “It was very nice meeting you both at the Villa... I expect you are in Maine, and I hope having a nice time.”

Mr Griffin has now sent the letter across the Atlantic to Mr Jacobson’s daughter Jessica, who will show it to her mother.

Mr Jacobson was acclaimed for works including his last novel All for Love and the autobiographical Heshel’s Kingdom about his Lithuanian rabbi grandfather.

It was during the 1970s that he became a full-time lecturer at University College London (UCL), where he worked alongside renowned poet and novelist AS Byatt.

His son, 58-year-old accountant Simon, said: “Since our father was a writer, we have loads of his papers and correspondence to go through and sort out, and this letter is an interesting and unexpected addition.

“We are delighted that Mr Griffin likes Dad’s work and has made the connection with the family.”